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Two of the best squads in the major USA Club Rugby premierships square off on Saturday in the 2018 USA Rugby Elite Cup Championship between Old Blue of New York and the Chicago Lions. This is the second rendition of the event which pits the top clubs of the American Rugby Premiership and the Midwest Rugby Premiership against each other. The Lions will host Old Blue in Chicago, Ill. at 3:30 pm CST and the match will be broadcasted live on www.USARugbyTV.com.
Old Blue has enjoyed an immensely successful fall sweeping its ARP opponents for a 6-0 record. Its undefeated season thus far has included victories against Life (33-27 away, 48-40 home), NYAC, and a pair over defending DI National Champion, Mystic River. Choosing not to participate in Nationals last season, Old Blue is eager to play in the Elite Cup competition this weekend.
“[The Elite Cup is a] fantastic opportunity to play out of area high-level competition that you wouldn’t normally see until the later stages of a playoff run for something meaningful,” head coach Dom Wareing said. “With the MLR in the spring, I can see this being the highlight of USA high-performance rugby in the autumn and with it being in Chicago a week before the national team match, I hope the Eagles players and coaching staff can come out to support and watch with players from both sides able to show what the top level of rugby here is all about.”
Old Blue’s ARP success can be boiled down to the richness of talent on the squad and the right gameplan. “We simplified a lot of the structures and as a collective, built on a system that would allow us to pressure the opposition in attack and defense,” Wareing explained. “We played in the right areas of the field, made our tackles, and were pretty ruthless in attack. Everyone bought in and realized that we can play exciting, fast-paced, high-scoring rugby without making it complicated. The pride in the club shirt has gone through the roof this season and as such has made us even harder to play as everyone involved will lay their body on the line every practice and game.”
Many of the players that took the field for Old Blue will show up on MLR rosters this spring. Players like Dylan Fawsitt, Anthony Purpura, Alex Schwarz, Connor Wallace-Sims, Cam Dolan, Luke Hume, and Derek Lipscomb form the backbone of the club.
Coach Wareing indicated that everyone has bought into the vision of being the most dominant club team in America and has worked hard to get going in the right direction. Lock Trevor Cassidy has come back with a vengeance from injury, Derek Lipscomb scored 13 tries in six games on the wing, flyhalf Connor Wallace Sims has had a great season off the tee and with ball in hand, rookie scrumhalf Koto Fujimura has been world class in running support lines, Jovanny Perez and Jamal Hadley are killers on defense, and hooker Dylan Fawsitt is deadly from short range.
As for its opponents, Old Blue has some familiarity with the Lions. “The Lions are a really well-coached and organized club,” Wareing said. “We have played them twice in the last 18 months or so, both of us winning the away times. Both games were close affairs and I am expecting the same this weekend. It’s a fantastic place to go and play, they are really well supported and few clubs host a side like Chicago Lions do, I just hope the trend of the away team winning continues.”
In the crowded Midwest, the Chicago Lions are full steam ahead in the middle of their season. Despite a loss to the Detroit Tradesmen a week ago, the Lions are 5-1, tied for first in the eastern division, and are playing some of the best rugby in the Midwest. Head coach Dave Clancy remarked at the increased competitiveness in the conference saying, “The Midwest has been good. The Griffins have recruited very well bringing in internationals, Detroit and St. Louis are doing great in their first DI season, and it’s a nice change to have some fresh challengers in the league and new away game locations to go to.”
The key to Chicago’s fire in the emphasis on continuity and depth. “We have kept the ball alive well and played with tempo and continuity to better finish opportunities, hence some bigger score lines and point differential this season,” Clancy said. “We now have two full squads who play DI and DII so we have a strong training environment and can manage when we have five or six guys away with MLR trials, etc. It’s also a number of guys second or third season with me so while we are a young squad, there is a club wide playing philosophy that is well understood.”
Like Old Blue, Chicago is chock full of MLR ready talent. Philip Spagnolo, Alec Janotka, and Angus MacLellan anchor the front row, flankers Dom Bailey and Paul Westin are beasts, and captain Andy Rose keeps reeling back the years and leading from the front week in, week out. In the backs, Indiana product Alex Dorrier is a talented and versatile #10, Jake Hidalgo is a demon on the wing, center Mike Houston is a scoring threat from anywhere, and Harry Deck is back at fullback offering a left-footed kicking option and inserts into the backline nicely.
With the recent history with Old Blue, Clancy is excited for another opportunity against the New York club. “We’ve played Old Blue twice in the last year and the series is tied at 1-1 with both teams winning away from home. They play a high-tempo game with a high ball in play time and obviously have a strong squad and are well-coached. They have had a great season this year and will be confident that they are bringing some good form to the fixture. Hopefully, we can have a dry sunny day and we can see two skilled backlines go up against each other and see an exciting game of rugby.”
|Chicago Lions||Position||Old Blue|
|Frederik De Beer||Prop||Jamal Hadley|
|Kevin Lydon||Hooker||Dylan Fawsitt|
|Angus MacLellan||Prop||Anthony Purpura|
|Michael Ziegler||Lock||Trevor Cassidy|
|Zibi Pawlowski||Lock||Bobby McMahon|
|Sean Mahon||Flanker||Jovanny Perez|
|Paul Westin||Flanker||Gavan D'Amore-Morrison|
|Andrew Rose||Eightman||Alex Schwarz|
|Johan van Zy||Scrumhalf||Blane McIlroy|
|Alex Dorrier||Flyhalf||Connor Wallace-Sims|
|Brian Rooney||Wing||Derek Lipscomb|
|Michael Houston||Inside Center||Ratu Tagive|
|Georg Niehaus||Outside Center||Erik Tack|
|Jack Case||Wing||Najee Bissoon|
|Harrison Deck||Fullback||Luke Hume|
|Gavin Mullan||Reserve||James Sheridan|
|Josh Williamson||Reserve||Francis Dougherty|
|Philip Spagnolo||Reserve||Oisin O'Neill|
|Scott Weber||Reserve||Philip Salter|
|David Whitney||Reserve||David Shotton|
|Spencer Cameron||Reserve||Randolph Porter|
|Jacob Hidalgo||Reserve||John Jackson|
|Daniel Coci||Reserve||Koto Fujimura|